I got a darn good lesson in humility recently.
Tyler and I finished up a vigorous round of shopping–which I absolutely loved and he absolutely hated, incidentally–with a trip to Chipotle, a Mexican restaurant we both love. I was digging into my burrito bowl when the door opened beside our table and the scariest-looking gangsta I’ve seen in a long time came traipsing in.
This dude was intimidating. Seriously.
He was a very large African-American guy, wearing a gigantic leather coat about three sizes too large for him. His jeans were sagging down around his rear end, his dreadlocks were crazily out of control, and his flat-brimmed hat was twisted sideways at just the proper angle (it’s an art, really. It’s a shame I haven’t mastered it myself).
What really marked him as a gangster were the humongous gold pendants and thick gold chains he had hanging around his neck.
I’m no expert, but I’d venture to guess that when your gold pendant is actually larger than a hood ornament on a car, it can aptly be described as “bling”.
I know, I know—how do I know all this slang?
I proudly thank the ghetto flashcards my parents got me as a joke a few years ago.
Incidentally, I once unintentionally left those flashcards on my coffee table when a friend’s sibling was visiting from downtown San Francisco. I didn’t know it at the time, but this sibling was most definitely from the roughest ‘hood in the city and regularly hung out with gangbangers and drug dealers—I now understand why she laughed so hard as she shuffled through the cards, alternately reading them and looking at me shuffling through my iPod’s classical music playlists.
And really, I do listen to rap occasionally–it’s not all Beethoven. Once, I even made a feeble attempt at learning to beatbox and made a recording on my friend’s cell phone answering machine.
I digress—as usual.
Anyway, I kept an eye on this thug as he waltzed into the restaurant. I noticed him check out an attractive young woman in line, and he grinned to show off his gold teeth.
Now, there are a few levels of bad boys in my book: wannabe, small-time thug, and gangsta.
This guy was most definitely gangsta.
It could be because I love to watch television shows about criminals, or it could be because I’m probably one of the most cautious people I know—but I’m always highly attuned to everything around me at all times. And when someone walks into a room and seems like they could possibly be a threat, I watch them like a hawk.
So, I kept my eyes on Mr. Gangsta. That way, I could be the first to react if he decided to pull something—you know, start throwing guacamole across the room at innocent victims, raiding the tortilla chip drawer, whatever it is that gangters do to cause mischief and mayhem.
What I noticed, however, actually taught me an important lesson about judging people.
My eyes were so drawn to Mr. Gangsta that I barely noticed the short man beside him—a man in mismatched clothing and shoes too big for his feet. He shuffled in and stood a little too close to the thug decked out in all the bling. He kept his head down and didn’t say a word.
When they finally sat down at the table across from us with their food, I understood why.
The short companion was severely mentally handicapped. And when Mr. Gangsta sat down, I noticed that he had a lanyard around his neck along with a photo ID, identifying him as the handicapped man’s helper.
As they sat down together to eat their meal, Mr. Gangsta was the most attentive companion I’ve seen in a long time. He refilled the man’s drink, fetched him napkins and silverware, and carefully watched to make sure he didn’t spill anything. I couldn’t hear anything they were saying to each other, but Mr. Gangsta laughed frequently and showed off his gloriously gold teeth often.
In short, he appeared to be completely contrary to the rough-and-tumble thug I had originally assumed he was.
I learned an important lesson: just as people shouldn’t judge my bright clothes, blonde hair and blue eyes and think that’s the whole me, neither should I judge a gangsta by his gold teeth.
Now, the crooked hat and bling, maaaaaybe….